17 November 2012
Tattoos: Then and Now
In today’s world, it is not uncommon to see people covered in all types of body art, such as tattoos. Arms, legs, sometimes even faces, all painted with permanent ink. For what reason, some people ask. What’s the point having words, designs, or pictures permanently drawn onto your skin? I personally love tattoos; they’re an artistic way for people to express who they are and their originality. Tattoos are a way for people to showcase their inner differences. But the question is, where did tattooing start, and why?
The word tattoo originates from the Tahitian word tattau, which means, "to mark.” An explorer James Cook, in his records from his 1769 expedition to the South Pacific, first mentioned this word. However, many scientists believe that the earliest known evidence of tattooing dates back 3300 B.C. due to 59 markings found on the skin of a mummified human body known as The Iceman (Demand Media Inc.).
In 2160 B.C., tattooing became prevalent in Egypt. Several mummies displaying lines and dots tattooed all over their bodies have been recovered that date to as early as the XI Dynasty. Though these people had been mummified for thousands of years, the tattoo markings were still completely visible (Hemingson). The main reasons for these Egyptian tattoos are to connect with the Divine (like god, or God); as a tribute or act of sacrifice to a deity; as a talisman, a permanent amulet that cannot be los; or to provide magical or medical protection (Hemingson).
Around 700 B.C. Ancient Greeks and Romans began tattooing, but for an entirely different reason. The use of tattoos, or “stigmata” (marks upon the body, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ), were mainly used to mark someone as “belonging” either as a slave to an owner or to a religious sect or sometimes even as a disciplinary measure to mark people as criminals (Designboom). When the dynasty of Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the pharaoh Ptolemy IV was said to have had ivy leaves tattooed on himself. These leaves symbolized his devotion to the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. This fashion was also adopted by Roman soldiers, which then spread across the Roman Empire (Famento).
During the rise of Christianity in 600 B.C., there was a widespread temporary standstill to tattooing in the Middle East and Europe. Saint Basil the Great, one of the most notable doctors of the Christian Church, warned: "No man shall let his hair grow long or tattoo himself as do the heathen, those apostles of Satan who make themselves despicable by indulging in lewd and lascivious thoughts. Do not associate with those who mark themselves with thorns and needles so that their blood flows to the earth" (Hemingson). During the gradual process of Christianization in Europe, tattoos were often considered remaining elements of paganism and generally legally prohibited. In the years 306-373, the Christian emperor Constantine completely banned tattoos. He felt that tattoos disfigured what was made in God’s image (Hemingson).
Though this ban of tattoos was very powerful, it couldn’t completely eliminate tattooing from Europe or the Middle East. Tattooing worked its way back into these two religions between 500-1500 by holy pilgrims. During the Middle Ages, people would go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and the only proof that they had actually been there would be the tattoos they received from the Coptic priests. The basic tattoo the pilgrims usually returned with was a simple cross, but the more outgoing people returned with portraits of historical events from the bible inked into their skin (Hemingson).
The earliest reference to British royalty being tattooed was King Harold II sometime between 1022 and1066. After King Harold II was killed in the Battle of Hastings, the only way his sister Edith could pick out which body was his was from the...